Trump Speeds Up Disaster Relief for Puerto Rico, Authorizes Waiver of Jones Act

For 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico, this decision could not have come soon enough

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 San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017
Trump speeds up disaster relief for Puerto Rico, authorizes waiver of Jones Act. Pictured: San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017Credit: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg

U.S. President Donald Trump waived shipping restrictions on Thursday to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, the White House said.

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White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a Twitter post that Trump, at the request of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello, “has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately.”

The Jones Act limits shipping between coasts to U.S.-flagged vessels.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Wednesday he expected the federal government to waive the Jones Act, which would lift restrictions on ships that can provide aid to the island devastated by Hurricane Maria.

He said he has been speaking with members of Congress from both parties who have supported an emergency waiver.

"We expect them to waive it," Rossello said in an interview with CNN. He noted there was a seven-day waiver after Hurricane Irma, which was much less devastating to the island.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration said there was no need to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, saying it would do nothing to address the island's damaged ports, the main impediment to shipping.

A waiver would allow Puerto Rico to get help not only from U.S. ships but from any ships that can bring aid.

"That is critical, particularly for fuel," he said. "One of the considerations right now is the priority of getting fuel, diesel, gasoline, all across the island. Right now we have enough fuel. We're limited by the transportation logistics, but at some point of course, getting fuel into the island is going to be critical so that we can have the major functions of telecoms, hospitals, water, to be running appropriately."

The Jones Act requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by American owned-and-operated ships.

U.S. Senator John McCain asked acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke on Tuesday to grant an emergency waiver of the law. He said that Puerto Rican residents would have to pay at least twice as much for food, drinking water and other supplies without the waiver. 

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